Discovering Costa Rica & Tortuguero
Costa Rica’s high season for tourism runs from late November to late April, which coincides almost perfectly with the chill of winter in the United States. It is considered the dry season. I went at the end of May, which is considered the rainy season but with that comes many advantages.
Tortuguero was our first destination, located on the eastern side of the country on Caribbean Sea coast. After landing in San Jose, it was necessary to stay one night as the departure for Tortuguero is early. Here is the adventure you can go on to get to this delightful destination that I consider to be the “essence” of Costa Rica.
There is a shared transfer which takes 1 ½ to 2 hours to reach Guapiles. Here you have breakfast, then board a motor coach for a 1½-hour drive to the boat landing area where you board for the boat trip to the lodge (guests need to carry their luggage about 150 feet to the boat and it is recommended they have only 1 piece of luggage plus carry on). Then it is a 1-hour boat trip to reach the lodge. You enjoy lunch time before having the option of doing an afternoon excursion.
The journey through the canals and rivers of Tortuguero National Park is like going on a mini Amazon tour.
Here is only part of the animal list I saw: howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white faced monkeys, two toed sloth, iguanas, coatimundi, spectacled caiman (alligator family), Jesus Christ lizard, emerald Basilik, gecko, blue jean dart frog, gaudy leaf frog, raccoon, great owl butterfly (looks like an owl face when wings are up and sitting on a leaf), blue morpho butterfly and birds galore. Now, what this area is really famous for is turtle nesting.
Tortuguero can be translated to ‘Region of turtles’. Unfortunately it was not the season for the green sea turtle nesting so I did not get to see that, but from July to September, that is what everyone wants to experience. Leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles also nest here at different times of the year.
The resorts are jungle lodges with few in-room amenities, offering immersion into the environment while remaining eco conscious. I stayed at Pachira Lodge which is on the Tortuguero River which separates the sand bar where the village of Tortuguero is located and the Caribbean Sea. There are a number of buildings with 4 to 6 cabins set amongst the jungle, so other than cabin mates sharing a common deck, you have a secluded feel with plenty of animal activity heard in the trees and viewable on the land. In fact, my wakeup call every morning was provided by howler monkeys outside my window!
Depending on the length of your stay, one enjoys boat excursions to the village, jungle walks and a boat tour of the canals in the National Park, along with wholesome buffet meals. The only property with air conditioned rooms I visited is Manatus Hotel. Mawamba Lodge is on what can be called the mainland with the river on the front of the property and the Caribbean Sea on the back side of the property, so you are right at the beach where the green sea turtles nest.
Arenal and Guanacaste were also on our agenda for the remaining days. The Arenal volcano is a stunning site and has been in a “resting” phase since 2010. Rising above the rainforest that surrounds its base, Arenal frames the skyline with near perfect symmetry. If you are lucky, and I was, you can get a clear view of this remarkable phenomenon.
The immediate area hosts a wealth of activities including hiking and canopy tours as well as the friendly town of La Fortuna. I experienced my first zip lining and added on a bonus activity called the “Tarzan Swing”! The area is known for natural hot springs and I experienced those at the Tabacon Resort.
Guanacaste was next on the list and provided a wonderful and relaxing beach experience. The tropical dry climate encompasses a varied landscape and provides some great beaches. The modest town of Tamarindo was charming and even provided a little shopping and nightlife. The property right in the heart of town is the Tamarindo Diria and it has some amazing beachfront views.
There are some beautifully located all-inclusives (Hilton Papagayo and Westin Playa Conchal), as well as the more intimate, charismatic, and eco-friendly resorts such as Bosque del Mar, Capitan Suizo and my favorite, Cala Luna.